columnBoycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS)

Injecting race into the debate about Israel empowers anti-Semites

The claim that the Republicans love Israel because they are white supremacists is a big lie that smears Zionism and Jews as much as the GOP.

Attendees of the 10th Christians United for Israel (CUFI) Washington Summit wave Israeli and American flags, July 13, 2016. Credit: CUFI via Facebook.
Attendees of the 10th Christians United for Israel (CUFI) Washington Summit wave Israeli and American flags, July 13, 2016. Credit: CUFI via Facebook.
Jonathan S. Tobin. Photo by Tzipora Lifchitz.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

It’s a contradiction that many liberal American Jews struggle with. How can a political party that they despise be such a stronghold of support for the Jewish state that they love?

The answer is that conservatives, including evangelical Christians, have a deep affection for Israel and the Jewish people. They oppose anti-Semitism and support the right of Israel to live in peace and security. They understand that it is a fellow democracy that shares American values about personal liberty. They also understand that those who seek its destruction—whether because of their Islamist hatred for Jews and the West or far-right or far-left ideologies anchored in anti-Semitism—also oppose American democracy. And, yes, many of them view the right of the Jews to their ancient homeland from the prism of personal faith rooted in the Bible.

That’s a point of view shared by the vast majority of Americans. And though Republicans are almost lockstep in their support of Israel with huge majorities backing the Jewish state, this is equally the view of a plurality of Democrats.

But if you’re a Jewish Democrat who cares about Israel—and pro-Israel liberals are far from extinct—the contrast between the growing division about Israel in your party and the devotion to the Jewish state on the part of President Donald Trump and Republicans is hard to explain.

If that’s your predicament, left-wing columnist Peter Beinart has a solution. Writing in the Forward, he has a simple explanation for GOP support for Israel: white supremacy.

Beinart, like so many on the left these days, has embraced racism as the answer to every issue and problem. But what does support for the national liberation movement of a non-Christian religious minority, who are just as likely to trace their background to the Middle East as to Europe, have to do with neo-Nazis and Jim Crow laws?

The answer is nothing.

And yet Beinart, like all too many other ideologues in this era of hyper-partisan demonization of political opponents, is so transfixed with hatred of Trump and the right that he tries to explain support for Israel as a function of evil. Worse than that, he is mimicking the language of the anti-Semitic left that views Israel from the perspective of intersectional myths in which it is a European colony.

Beinart, who poses as the anguished voice of conscience of liberal Zionism on CNN and in other outlets, believes the only reason conservatives support Israel is because it is an ethnic state dominated by white Europeans in conflict with people of color. He also thinks the Republican goal is to make America a white Judeo-Christian state.

This is a funhouse-mirror version of Republicans that deliberately twists support for enforcement of existing immigration laws into a 21st-century version of fascism. It also seeks to weaponize race as an all-purpose political tool to delegitimize opponents.

Whatever you may think of Trump, the notion that conservatives are all racists is a venomous libel. Nor is there any evidence that Trump’s historic support for Israel is a function of racism, let alone that of his foreign-policy team and close advisers.

It’s also a curious diversion from the usual liberal talking points seeking to downplay the growing partisan gap about Israel. Most Democrats deplore the desire of Republicans to point out the fact that the political left increasingly buys into false notions about Israel being an apartheid state, which are based in intersectional ideological claims about the Palestinian war on Israel being morally equivalent to the struggle for civil rights in the United States.

In Beinart’s view, the entire notion of a bipartisan consensus is wrong. He thinks that conservatives like Israel because they see it as a Jewish version of white supremacy. But that’s exactly the same kind of canard that is at the heart of far-left attacks on Israel that most liberals deplore.

Like others on the left, Beinart is determined to downplay the growing threat of anti-Semitism from the left and the anti-Zionist attacks on the existence of the one Jewish state on the planet. He thinks that any attention paid to the way the BDS movement and its supporters, like Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), is merely a ploy to distract the public from Trump’s sins. Nor is he interested in the way BDS and anti-Zionism legitimize anti-Semitism.

Instead, he has merged his distaste for Israel’s democratically elected government—and the political consensus among Israelis about the peace process—with his hatred for Trump—and found a way to delegitimize them all.

Beinart’s ideas aren’t just fundamentally mistaken. They are also exactly the sort of arguments that are used to not only further divide Americans from each other, but also to isolate Jews and the State of Israel.

Israel is a country where equal rights apply to all, and whose Jewish majority is made up of people more likely to be descended from Jews originating from Arab countries than from Europe. It has nothing to do with white supremacy, and to link it to Nazi ideology or racial prejudice is libelous and exactly the sort of thing that echoes the screeds of the anti-Semites.

Beinart’s slurs about the sincere support for Israel on the part of Republicans are designed to destroy what’s left of the bipartisan consensus supporting Zionism.

If you are a liberal Zionist, you may be perplexed by the fact that people who disagree with you on other issues share your love of Israel. But there’s no excuse for buying into smears based on the idea that much of America is incorrigibly racist, and that by extension, Israel is as well. When efforts to demonize the pro-Israel community and the Jewish state seep into the public debate with the imprimatur of a Jewish publication, we shouldn’t be surprised that left-wing anti-Semitism is growing and support for Israel among liberal Democrats is shrinking.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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